Climate findings ‘alarming’
Coral over coal for the reef’s future
❝transition We need to quickly from fossil fuels to renewable energy if our reef is going to stand a chance.
ALARMING findings were revealed in an Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report on global warming released earlier this month, according to environmental commentators.
According to the report, greenhouse gas pollution levels must reach zero in the next 30 years to stop global warming at 1.5C.
Current rates suggest 1.5C would be breached by 2040, and 2C would be breached in 2060, the report said.
Stretching 2300km down the northeast coast of Australia, the Great Barrier Reef is the largest reef in the world, and rising temperatures will cause irreversible damage.
Marine biologist Jacquie Sheils said hot weather with no wind and lots of sun was the enemy.
“It’s when you have prolonged periods of hot, calm weather that coral bleaching occurs,” she said.
“These marine heatwaves are driven by humaninduced climate change.”
Ms Sheils said when the water was too warm, corals would expel the algae living in their tissues. The algae supplied most of the coral’s food and gives it a brown colour so, they first become pale fluorescent colours.
Without the algae to supply food, they have no energy to produce pigments, and become totally white; they bleach, Ms Sheils said.
“The bleaching event that we saw in the summer of 2016–17 saw 67 per cent of the coral killed in the northern parts of the Great Barrier Reef,” she said.
Although Cyclone Debbie destroyed a lot of coral in the region last March, the storm did cool the waters in the Coral Sea, which may have prevented the mass bleaching event reaching here, Ms Sheils said.
“It takes about 10 years for reefs to recover from a major bleaching event: the return time for bleaching events has decreased from over 20 years in the 1980s to around six years now.
“So it is likely that reefs will bleach again before they have fully recovered.”
A July 2017 report by Deloitte Access Economics estimated the Great Barrier Reef contributed $6.4 billion/ year to the Australian economy.
As well as top tourism dollars, the reef supports 60,000 jobs in the region.
Reef Action Whitsunday spokesman Tony Fontes, who has lived in the region for 40 years, said changes he had observed on the reef due to climate change in that time were “remarkable”.
“We need to transition quickly from fossil fuels to renewable energy if our reef is going to stand a chance,” he said. Whitsunday Regional Council manager for Health, Environment and Climate Adam Folkers said the council took climate change and its impacts seriously and had been implementing renewable energy projects throughout the region.
“Council is currently developing a Climate Mitigation Strategy to reduce greenhouse gas emission further and is set to release a Coastal Hazard Adaptation Strategy early in 2019 that will look to manage the impacts of climate change in our coastal areas,” Cr Folkers said.
The council launched the Whitsunday Climate Change Innovation Hub that aims to attract experts to the region to work on solutions to the impacts of climate change.
— Tony Fontes
CORAL BLEACHING: Experts warn that the affects of climate change will be detrimental to the reef.